(Roadmap to Baby's First Year: Part 2)
Life changes when you have a baby (or another baby, or another…). It's never the same as it was before you had your little one – but you can settle into a routine that keeps your baby growing and keeps you feeling good. This section of the road map covers just how you do that.
This is part of a full series on baby's 1st year
- A Road Map to Baby's First Year
- Back to the New Normal (this post)
Rhythm and Routine 101
Routine often gets a bad rap – it stifles spontaneity, after all. How can you go places, do things, and enjoy all that life has to offer if you can't just take off on a whim?
Reality Check: you really can't just take off on a whim when you have a baby or small children in tow. It gets easier when they're older, but little ones really tend to like rhythm and routine. And the predictability of routine is exactly what helps you feel like you've got it together – so you can take off into the wild blue yonder every once in awhile (okay, or off to the wild new playground, but whatever).
Some mamas like to think about the day having a rhythm, which sounds less strict than routine. I don't really care what you call it, I think you need it.
In the early weeks with a newborn you can ease towards are rhythm and routine, but things might not smooth out until your baby is moving towards three or four months old. Newborns are still really new 🙂 They need to get the hang of day and night, sleep and wake, eating and growing. Those weeks can be crazy.
You can still be intentional, just don't have high expectations. I work to serve meals at a regular time, for instance. I don't get upset if Sadie doesn't sleep through the meal (after seven babies, I'm pretty good eat eating left-handed because I need to nurse on my right side, but it's still not my preference). But I do want to try and work towards having her sleep or be calm at mealtimes, having her nap when my toddlers are napping or I'm doing homeschool lessons with my older kids, etc.
Build your routine on pillars:
- When will you eat every day? Baby will join you for meals before you know it!
- When will baby have an afternoon nap? You should join baby (at least catnap for part of it)
- When is baby's bedtime?
- Work on a regular morning naptime too
You may want to think of other things to do with baby during the day – we'll cover that later on this road map, but these are pillars to start thinking in routines.
It's not going to be a perfect day every day, and it may take time to get everyone adjusted to the rhythm. My kids go to bed around 7:30pm. Most of them read for a while before bed. I want Sadie to go to bed then, too. But now that means going through Sadie's bedtime routine, then nursing and cuddling her while she sleeps in my arms. Occasionally she snoozes in the swing. The day will come when I can “put her to bed” at 7:30 with the others, but not yet. Rhythm and routine is intentional, but not always immediate 🙂
Your week may have some variation in it – Fridays is baby storytime at the library, and maybe you go to the grocery store that day. Maybe there's a doctor's appointment one week, or mom's group meeting. Those things are okay. Just try to keep things pretty regular most of the time. Baby will appreciate it. And you'll feel less stressed when you know what to expect, too. There's something very sweet about not having to make too many decisions in one day 🙂
If you want to have your very young baby on a routine after the first couple of weeks, that's okay too. Remember a newborn may only be able to be awake for 45 – 60 minutes (counting his or her nursing session). Being overtired is one of the biggest issues for young babies, so don't underestimate the importance of naps! And always remember to be flexible and listen to what your baby is saying – at any age or stage.
Handling the House
Many mamas get baby care down to an art right away, and you may find it pretty easy to take care of your baby. The problem comes with you need to do anything else. I'm at that point right now with Sadie – she's pretty easy to take care of… as long as I can spend all my time nurse, bouncing, holding, or singing to her! She did spend 9 months in the womb with her needs met 24/7, so it's understandable that she needs a lot of time in-arms now. But sometimes it's hard to get housework done with a baby stuck to you 😉
Ask for help in the early days, like I mentioned above. But eventually help ends and you've got to get in there and get it done. If you can, simplify. Declutter, put away, minimize as much as you can so there's not as much to do. Toddlers, preschoolers, and older kids don't need tons of toys. And now may not be the time to get into gourmet cooking with lots of tools. Stick to the basics:
Go with a couple of trusty pots and pans and a few great cooking utensils. Use paper plates and plastic utensils if things are feeling overwhelming – and when you're ready to wash again, wash as soon as you eat (or load the dishwasher right away). Don't let things build up.
Baby carriers are really helpful when it comes to clean-up time: baby can just ride along with you while you wipe and wash. A bouncy seat in the kitchen works for some mamas, too.
Save the fancy food for the weekend and stick to basic, one-skillet meals when you know life is going to be more hectic. Or use your slow cooker.
Actually planning meals is the overwhelming part for many mamas. If that's the case for you, you might want to look into a weekly menu-planning service. There are lots online and you can find one to fit any diet and any style of cooking (I recommend quick & easy for baby's first year!). Plan simple, tried-and-true favorites for the days the meal planning service doesn't cover. 🙂
Make lunches nice and easy – but don't forget them. Eat the same thing for lunch every day, or go with one of my favorite variations: pick a lunch recipe for Monday, for Tuesday, and so on – then repeat that same lunch menu every week. Most of us like the routine 😉 Just remember: you need to eat!
Dump all the stuff you don't actually use. One or two shampoo, conditioner, and soap varieties is enough for anyone. Pare down cosmetics and other personal care products to the ones that really work for you. There – your bathroom is much cleaner already!
I've found the real secret to a clean bathroom is just to do a 5-minute cleanup job every day (I do it right after lunch). I wipe down the sink and the toilet seat, then straighten the diaper changing area. If needed I sweep quickly and empty the trashcan. I look over the tub and make sure the magazine rack isn't overflowing. That's it. Once I week I try to clean the toilet, and I scrub the tub here and there – usually when I know my parents are coming to stay with us for a week 😉
I don't have to clean my kids' bathroom because I have older kids who are in charge of that (for better or for worse!). But if you need to take care of a children's bathroom, do it while your tots are in the tub. Obviously baby is going to have to be in a carrier or bouncy seat, not the tub, but it usually works really well to keep an eye on your toddlers while you swish and swipe your way through their bathroom. Do a 5-minute wipe-down on the days they don't have a bath.
I try to make my bed every morning. It just makes the whole bedroom look a little more peaceful, and it takes only a couple of minutes. I can even do it while holding Sadie American football-style across one arm! Otherwise I take 5 minutes to try and straighten up in my room. There are definitely times when stuff piles up and I have to make a real effort to declutter and clean – that usually takes a few days of working for 15-30 minutes each day. If it's going to be longer than that, I go to the organization experts online and use their tips to create a game plan 😉
Keeping your bedroom clean is mostly a habit game:
- Put your clothes (and baby's) into the hamper when you take them off (or hang/fold them if they're not dirty and you'll wear them again).
- Make your bed in the morning.
- Put clothes away when a basket of clean laundry comes in.
- Notice things (like books or accessories) that tend to pile up by the bed and dresser and make a habit to put them away.
Kids' bedrooms are more problematic, and I'll admit I don't have the perfect solution. Not having toys in the kids' bedrooms works for our family. There are a few “little kid” toys in our family area, and everything else is sorted into bins in my closet. It comes out when asked for, then gets packed away again. Just keeping clothes storage clean in kid rooms is tough enough for us! Minimize what toddlers have access to in their rooms, and/or minimize the amount of time they can be there. That works for us too – during the day, play happens in the family room 🙂 At night, sleep happens in the bedroom!
Talking about clothing brings up laundry – something else that really overwhelms. Choose from two strategies:
- A load a day every day (or every other)
- Once a week
You're going to decide what works for your family. My family can't do once a week anymore. It's a load a day, and most days it's two – either diapers, whites, or cleaning cloths need to go after the colored clothing load. But when we had only 4 kids, we did manage once-a-week laundry.
If you're doing it every day, put your load in first thing in the morning (wear baby in a carrier is he or she is awake). Set a timer, and move your load to the dryer or hang on the line as soon as that timer goes off. Then have a set time for folding and putting away – some mamas like to do this in the late afternoon so they can sit and talk with family, watch something on TV/computer, or listen to an audiobook. Even toddlers can learn to help fold and put things away.
If you're doing laundry once a week, keep timers going all day to remind you to start the number of loads you need. Fold and put away as soon as you can. Again, baby carriers really help with this.
The Family Area
Keeping the family area clean is always trying. As I said above, I recommend limiting children's toys (and books). They'll end up all over the place, and most of them aren't even played with! Have toys come out in rotation, or only have one toy out at a time (our toddlers can pick to have out Duplo blocks, for instance, or dress-up, but rarely both at once).
A basket can help with clean-up time. Get your little ones to help you gather everything into a laundry basket or big wicker basket. Then they can go with you to each toy storage area and put toys into their appropriate home. This is less overwhelming for them and for you. Baby can ride in a carrier.
Have containers to corral projects – for instance, you might have a bin that contains handiwork supplies for you. When you're done working on a project for the day, pack it into that bin and stow the bin in the living room closet. The same strategy works for many things!
Get older kids to help clean up after themselves (I know, it's easier said than done, but you still need to insist on it). The key that I've discovered is twofold: 1. Have standards you teach your kids to meet, and expect them to mess up some (so you don't get upset when they don't clean up after themselves) – just don't tell them that you're expecting them to mess up. And 2. If you're starting to get irritated, it's past time for you to do something about it. Get up and tell them that the day stops until the room is picked up 😉
Getting Out and About
You've got parenting down… at home. The thought of taking your baby out in public, however, strikes fear into your heart! That's not an unusual feeling, but things don't have to be too overwhelming. First, don't worry about over-packing. Just go ahead and pack everything you think you'll need. You probably don't need all of that – and in a few weeks you'll feel a lot more comfortable going without much in tow 😉
If you'll be traveling in your car you can also keep extra supplies there, which can help ease anxiety.
Plan your first outing to somewhere you'll feel safe – visit family you feel comfortable with, a library with a dedicated children's area, or a store that has a breastfeeding room (many baby stores do).
If you need to retreat to your car to regroup, use that option. I can remember sitting in my car with my first newborn baby and my nursing pillow, just trying to calm down and regroup after our first frazzled outing together. I still nurse in the car between errands sometimes 🙂
Take some time to get your baby used to your preferred baby carrier before you start to venture out and about.
Don't be discouraged if your baby doesn't seem to like a carrier – often you need to be moving with baby in the carrier. That's why it's a good tool when you need to carry laundry around the house, or walk around picking up, vacuum, etc. Use these as opportunities to get both yourself and your baby used to the carrier. This helps you feel comfortable using a carrier when you're out with your baby.
I do recommend you use a baby carrier when you're going out with your little one. I know car seat makers want you to use a car seat all the time – especially since you'll usually spend a lot on a fancy “travel system” with deluxe stroller to cart that heavy seat through stores. I'm not against strollers, but a baby carrier is simple and keeps your baby snuggled close to you – where he or she wants to be.
The baby carrier also tends to keep people's hands off of your baby, and discourages requests to hold the baby. People poke and prod babies in strollers, but when the baby is being worn on your body they're less likely to invade personal space!
Keep outings short, especially at first, or proactively plan “rest stops” into your errands. For example, you might go to a store, then the library or park, then another store. You know you can relax and nurse on the couch in the children's section of the library, or spread a blanket out to sit on in a secluded corner of the park.
Outings will get much easier and you'll get the hang of how much you need to carry with you. Do keep in mind that going out and about too often can get stressful for both you and your baby. Spending some time outside the house, especially with other mamas, can be really good for you. But if you're always on the go you'll feel stressed and frazzled, and baby may feel that way too. Pick one, maybe two weekly outings and try to make sure they're earlier in the day (not during afternoon nap times).
Our family tries to make it to the library's weekly preschool storytime, and our older kids have a Japanese lesson every other week. Other than that we stay home during the school year. We do a little more during the summer when everyone's schedule is more relaxed and there are a lot of library events, 4H meetings, and lazy days by the lake – but it's good to limit obligations even for older kids, and great memories can be made just enjoying time with family and friends at home 🙂
Stick with what you feel works for you and your family – and don't be afraid to say no sometimes.
Finding Time for You
I have always relished those timeless moments when you feel like you've really got this mothering thing down to an art. Oxytocin is flowing between you and baby and it just feels right. I have this picture in my mind that cuddling my baby should always be like that, and those perfect moments with my toddlers, preschoolers, and older kids should just happen. I should always be that perfect mama.
But. I am not perfect.
I'm not, and you're not either, and that's okay. Part of that imperfection means that we need to take time away from our kids. Our babies, too.
That time might be fleeting initially (as I talked about in Part 1) – maybe just long enough to take a shower. But you probably need something.
As I'm typing this, Sadie (baby #7) is 5 weeks old. She's been napping for about 2 hours – a deliciously long nap.
It's a beautiful winter day and my husband made it home from work early. I nursed Sadie and tucked her into the swing, then Scott and I took off to snowshoe around our back trail. The littlest four kids napped and the oldest three finished their schoolwork for the day while we walked. It was a really nice time for me, and that 30 minutes helped me recharge.
I have luxuries now that I didn't have when I only had little children. My older kids can listen for napping babes while I take a quick walk. When my babies are around a year old, I'm able to start taking a trip the library once a week for a few hours of alone time. Scott stays with the kids. If you can take time like this, it's really good for you to do so.
I always emphasize that it's important for you to feel comfortable (I wouldn't feel comfortable spending a few hours away from Sadie at this point, for instance). But you should not feel guilty that you want a few minutes to yourself.
This is a balance – realize this now. You shouldn't feel guilty about taking time for yourself, and you shouldn't feel resentful if you don't get to take all the time you need. I could sit and write for a few hours every day, and I could certainly spend 8 hours a day working on this website. I love helping mamas and babies and it's really fulfilling work. But it's just not a reality to take care of my family and do this for 8 hours, or even 4 hours – I'm lucky to get 1 hour in a day to dedicate to something “for me.” Sometimes I feel resentful about the fact that I can't sit down to write without hearing “Mama?” every 30 seconds. But that's just life with a family. And it's life that I'm not going to get as much “me time” as I'd really like 😉
So again, go for the balance. Sometimes you'll feel out of balance, and that's OK. But try to make time for the things you really need (a shower, some lunch, 30 minutes to read a book, write a bit, or chat with a friend). And, try not to feel upset if you don't have quite the amount of time you wish.
As a side note, if your baby doesn't sleep well and you're truly exhausted, get some help so you can get some sleep. Sleep deprivation is serious and can impact your ability to be the mama you want to be. Ask your partner, a family member, or even a friend to babysit while you sleep for a little while. And if you really are feeling resentful of your baby, see if someone can come over. Give your baby a good nursing, then hand him or her over for a couple of hours while you go to another room, or while your neighbor or mother-in-law takes baby out on a walk. Get a little time to re-charge if you need it.
Finding Time for Two
Baby can make it hard to feel like you have time for yourself – and even harder to feel like you and your husband are a couple! Having baby make three isn't always as wonderful as it's made out to be!
You're exhausted and overwhelmed, and it's quite possible that your man feels pretty tired too. He has feelings of his own, which probably include wondering when you're going to get back to being a lover and not just a mother.
If you're a Daddy and you're reading this, remember to give her time. Then go for the “wine and dine” approach (actual wine and dine are optional – just remember to be tender and loving to her, show your appreciation, and maybe do little things to make her smile… like you did when you were dating 🙂 ).
But if you're mama, the first thing to remember is that you need to talk. Tell your man how you feel (if you're still feeling sore, or if your emotions are all over the place, or if you're feeling really “touched out” from holding baby all day). Letting him know how you feel is helpful, and you can work your way back to lovemaking – try watching some chick flicks together, spend some time just kissing and caressing, etc. And go slowly (try woman on top positions so you're in control) when it comes to actual lovemaking.
Here are some other tips to find time for the two of you:
Share the load: Sure Daddy may be out working all day, but you're home with your baby and that's a really intense place to be. Ask your man to help out with the housework. You can divvy up responsibilities with a chart if that's helpful. Remember, baby care can come into play (not just housework). Dad can help give baby an evening bath, for example.
Don't hover or criticize what your man does – it's OK if he doesn't handle the house or baby care exactly like you would. Talk about it if things aren't getting done and find a way you can work together – it will mean more time for both of you. Another bonus – if Daddy can handle a little bit of baby's evening routine, it gives you a little bit of a break 😉
Build a good bedtime routine for baby: This may not be a reality right away, but as your baby moves past the newborn stage you can create a set bedtime routine to follow every evening. This helps your baby wind down for sleep and eventually means you can put your baby down for the night and have some time with your man.
If you have toddlers or older kids who don't have a set bedtime routine, start with them. Let them know bedtime is going to be at a certain time, then create a nice lead-up. Supper, cleanup, bath, story, bed is a sample. Some families prefer cleanup, bath, pj's, supper, wash face/hands, brush teeth, story, bed – so that little ones are going to bed with a full belly without having to add on an extra snack. Do what works.
Then work on baby's evening routine. You probably read a book (or Facebook) to wind down before bed – so create a nice routine for your baby to wind down with. Move towards getting your baby and older kids to sleep (or in bed reading) early enough for you to have some time as a couple. Even if all you can do is cuddle on the couch and watch Netflix, it's kid-free time to be just the two of you <3
Take walks together: This has been one of the easiest things for Scott and I to do, and one of the things I look forward to most. Most babies are happy to be carried along on a walk, so grab hands and take a stroll. With baby content in the carrier the two of you can talk. Use other times, like driving time, to find time to talk together, too.
It's Intense – and You'll Adjust
Remember: when it comes to time for yourself or time for yourself and your man, the early months of life with baby are really intense. I do recommend you work in some simple routines (or bring in a neighbor, family member, or even hired help if you're really stressed out) – and find time for yourself and your most important relationships.
But also remember that these very intense months won't last forever. I find that thought comforting when I'm on the verge of tears because Sadie is still awake and I still haven't had a moment where my hands are free – or when I feel like Scott and I haven't really talked for ages. These moments really do pass so quickly. Do what you need to to get through them (routines really help) – and know that they too will pass and new adventures will arrive!
We'll talk about some of those new adventures: solid foods, keeping baby healthy, getting your body back where you want it to be, and a few sticky parenting situations in the next segment of the road map!
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